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Story and photos by Vicki Hoefling Andersen   February 1, 2011

  It began with the floor of the Pacific Ocean slipping beneath the North American plate off the coast of Oregon. As the cold sea bottom collided with the continental plate, it descended into the interior of the earth and heated up enough to melt the basalt rock of which it was comprised. Being lighter and more fluid than the rocks around it, the molten basalt rose until it burst through the surface of the earth in massive volcanic eruptions.  
  Mt. Bachelor, Oregon   Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, Broken Top  
Mt. Bachelor rises along one side of the massive playground known as Dutchman’s Flat
Glaciers and erosion sculpted Broken Top’s distinctive shape
  After giving birth to most of the Cascade mountain range, about 12 million years ago these volcanic upheavals pretty much ceased, with Mt. St. Helens being a recent throwback to this process. Glaciers and erosion began their work on the landscape, carving huge meadows and nearly vertical walls. The area around Mt. Bachelor in Central Oregon, known as Moon Country for its resemblance to the lunar surface, is a prime example of this sculpting, and has fashioned a snowmobiler’s paradise.  
  Snomobiling Moon Country play bowl   Snowmobiling Mt. Tumalo  
Busting powder in one of Moon Country’s numerous play bowls
Challenging the slopes of Mt. Tumalo
  This sledhead playground is twice the size of some states, providing almost every type of terrain for which one could hunger. You’ll find trails that weave through powder-filled bowls and enormous meadows that beg for exploration. Numerous buttes astound with breathtaking vistas of this ancient volcanic range. All this is interspersed with heart-arresting cornices and hills to challenge the mettle of even the most seasoned enthusiast.  
  Kwohl Butte, Oregon   Kwohl's crater seen from Mt. Bachelor   Mt. Bachelor from Kwohl Butte  
From Trail 4, Kwohl Butte appears as a massive hump on the horizon
From the top of Mt. Bachelor, Kwohl’s crater is clearly visible
Mt. Bachelor from Kwohl Butte
  Kwohl Butte (elevation 7,358’) presents stunning views of high alpine lakes, numerous peaks of the Cascade Range, and hundreds of square miles of snow-shrouded wilderness. From this vantage point, skiers can be spotted unloading off the Summit Chair at the top of the Mt. Bachelor ski area.  
  Alpine lakes east of Kwohl Butte, Oregon   Kwohl's crater, Oregon  
Numerous high alpine lakes dot the landscape east from Kwohl Butte
Kwohl’s crater is the perfect place to play velodrome
  Kwohl features one of the most unusual bowls in snowmobile kingdom--an immense crater with velvety smooth walls. If the conditions are right (remember, this is a crater and the way in is also the only way out), drop in and play velodrome, swirling up and around and down and around and up and... Or head up the sometimes narrow and always twisty trail ascending Wanoga Butte (elevation 5,697’) to discover an unequaled glimpse of high desert country stretching eastward until it melts into the horizon.  
  Mt. Bachelor's cinder cone, Oregon   South Sister and Broken Top, Oregon  
Views from Dutchman’s Flat include Mt. Bachelor’s Cinder Cone (left) and the South Sister and Broken Top
  Dutchman Flat affords acres of smooth, open topography on which to play, appearing to sit in the very lap of The Three Sisters, Broken Top and Three Fingered Jack. From Dutchman’s you have easy access to such infamous hillclimbs as Moon Mountain (elevation 8,000’) and Tumalo Mountain (elevation 7,775’). Trail No. 6, which skirts Tumalo Mountain, winds and undulates through the forest like a downhill rollercoaster.  
  Moon Mountain, Oregon   Mt. Tumalo, Oregon  
Hillclimbs such as Moon Mountain (left) and Mt. Tumalo (right) challenge the mettle of hardcore sledheads
  From Moon Mountain you can skirt along the edge of the Three Sisters Wilderness riding the Three Creeks Trail for a cross-country excursion all the way to the winter trails out of the town of Sisters.  
  Cascade Lakes Hwy, Oregon   Moon Mountain base, Oregon  
Side berms along the Cascades Lakes Highway provide a change of pace to its freeway-like expanse
Open expanses and forested trails stretch east-southeast from the base of Moon Mountain
  Encircle the base of 9,065-foot Mt. Bachelor and you’ll find jewels such as Lava Lake, Elk Lake, Devil’s Lake and Sparks Lake either glistening deep aquamarine blue or snow-covered and frosted with a dazzling glow of diamond dust. Many portions of the road are edged with steep embankments formed by massive ancient lava flows. They beg for sidehilling thrills, but remember that the area west of this trail is designated wilderness so don’t venture up any paths heading into that area. Exploring Edison Ice Cave would adds a bit of geological intrigue to the ride.  
  Snomobiling, Oregon   Highmarking at Moon Mtn, Oregon  
Pointing out which cornice is the best challenge on the next uphill confrontation
Highmarking your buddies is the name of the game at Moon Mountain
  Situated in the Deschutes National Forest, Moon Country is midpoint on Oregon’s Border to Border trail system and has one of the best marked trail systems in the state. This well thought out network includes the entire range of all-family-ride to hillclimb-challenging, and won’t spring any nasty surprises on you thanks to the accurately detailed maps. These maps are available in the Wanoga warming hut, at the Wanoga map board, and in map boxes in various locations around the area. About half of the 200 miles of snowmobile trails are regularly groomed, but the snow is usually so light and the undergrowth so sparse you don’t need a trail, groomed or otherwise, to find nearly unlimited territory for exploration.  
  Mountain shelter, Oregon   RV with fresh layers of snow, Oregon  
Day-use shelters include this one known simply as “The Viewpoint”
An overnight dump layers the trails with a fresh surface

Four backcountry day-use shelters are sprinkled around Moon Country, including Quinn Meadow and Sheridan Mountain. Three sno-park lots provide easy access to the snowmobile trails. Wanoga Butte Sno-Park (elevation approx. 4,000’) at Milepost 15 on the Cascade Lakes Highway, is the largest—and most crowded—parking facility, offering restrooms, a sizable warming shelter, and overnight stays.

Edison Sno-Park (elevation approx. 4,800'), four miles south of the Cascades Lakes Highway on Road 45 at Milepost 19, is a quieter locale, closer to the center of the trail system, that also allows camping. Dutchman Sno-Park (elevation approx. 5,500) is literally at the end of the road, at least as far as the Cascade Lakes Highway is plowed in the winter. It is extremely congested and has very limited room for RVs, especially one with a trailer in tow. It’s a popular parking area with Nordic skiers. Overnight camping is not permitted.

  Broken Top, Oregon   Mt. Bachelor, Oregon  
Broken Top from Dutchman’s Flat, Memorial Weekend
Mt. Bachelor from The Viewpoint

The season is generally underway by early November, and there’s a considerable group of regulars who make Moon and Tumalo hillclimbing their traditional Memorial Day Weekend outing. There are a few areas that are closed to motorized use: the Three Sisters Wilderness, Todd Lake, part of Tumalo Mountain/Bend Municipal Watershed, and the Mt. Bachelor Ski Area. Snowmobilers are permitted access to Mt. Bachelor's Sunrise Lodge via a short detour off Trail No. 5. It has food service, restrooms and other skier-related amenities.

The closest town is Bend, 16 miles from the Wanoga Butte Sno-Park on the Cascade Lakes Highway/Highway 46/Century Drive (same road, various names), with a wide variety and price range of motels and restaurants. Bend also has a number of snowmobile dealers offering the full array of parts and service.

  Snowmobiling, Oregon  

You don’t need to board a space flight to enjoy some otherworldly excitement, just pack up and head to Moon Country. And be very appreciative of those primordial and colossal geological disturbances which shaped this portion of the Pacific Northwest. It has provided an unsurpassed topography designed especially for winter enthusiasts.


Oregon State Snowmobile Association

Moon Country Snowmobile Club

Bend Ranger District/Deschutes National Forest

Bend Chamber of Commerce

  Vicki Hoefling Andersen can be reached at:  
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